41 Dogleap Road, Limavady, Londonderry, BT49 9NN.
The Roe Valley Country Park stands on the outskirts of Limavady, set in a beautiful tranquil location which offers spectacular riverside views and woodland walks. There are a variety of routes along the riverside and woods which makes for some pleasurable scenic journeys through the landscape.
The park is approximately 3 miles long and consists of mainly deciduous, riparian woodland on each side of the Roe. The terrain next to the river is mostly steep sided gorge, with some areas of flat grassland on the northwest bank. As the river has a large, freely draining catchment area, it significantly increases in volume and speed soon after heavy rain. This is most visible around the visitor centre, where the river is forced through a narrow section of the gorge.
A visitor centre provides managerial office space, a cafe, exhibition space and a presentation area. The area around the visitor centre contains the Green Lane Museum, with exhibits on local history, the area linen industry, agriculture and artefacts of rural life. In the 18th century, the local linen industry was based on the same site, the remains of which include flax drying fields with watch towers, derelict buildings and a waterwheel originally used to power the machinery.
There is also a disused hydroelectric generating station which was the first to operate in Northern Ireland in 1896.
Fishing on the river for salmon and brown trout is allowed with a permit. Parts of the river containing rapids and weirs are used for kayaking, although the park officially bans boats and canoes. Scrambling on the rock faces at O’Cahan’s Rock has also been restricted. The section of river below O’Cahan’s Rock, consisting of a bridge and weir, is used for swimming. The forest is used for orienteering by local clubs and schools in Limavady.
The river is bridged at several points through the park, although only the bridge by the visitor centre is suitable for vehicles. There are footbridges below the O’Cahan’s Rock car park, below O’Cahan’s Rock itself, at Carrick Mills and below Carrick Church.
Life and Legend
The park in the Roe valley is 3 miles long, a lovely walk through woodland on both banks of the river. The Roe has cut a steep sided gorge, so it changes its character along its course. There is a big water catchment so soon after heavy rain, the water thunders and bounces through the gorge.
In summer, the calm water at the bridge and weir below O’Cahan’s Rock is a swimming pool. There are four footbridges along the riverbank walks, so it is possible to walk the river, first on one side and then the other.
The lower ground was the centre of the linen industry. Now the buildings contain the Dogleap Visitor’s Centre with ecological displays and the Green Lane Museum. The Green Lane Museum exhibitions highlight linen but there are also features on rural life and other types of agriculture. Much of the machinery is preserved, including a restored water wheel. There are other ruined buildings to wander around and imagine the hard work and process. Making linen was so dependent on the weather. How the workers must have prayed for a fine summer watching the soft blue flowers of the flax blossom. Then a fair early autumn too, please, so the flax could be pulled and dried.
Finally a wonderful storm at the equinox in September, so the Roe would flow strong and powerful, turning the wheels for scutching, spinning and weaving. The river also ran the first domestic hydro electric station in 1896.
The names and legends of the park all focus on the great rock and the O’Cahan clan. The footbridges are at O’Cahan’s Rock, Carrick Mills and Carrick Church. Carrick means a rock too. The O’Cahans were a great clan who administered their extensive estates from their castle near the rock. They owned a vast tract of the county and their sept, the McHenrys controlled their fishing rights on the river Bann.
Nearby Limavady takes its name from one of their legends, how they once kept a fierce wolfhound that was trained to warn them if an enemy approached. One night the dog was wandering on the other side of the river from the castle when it came across armed men moving quietly through the trees towards its home. With a great run, the dog cleared the rushing water and ran home to warn his master. Limavady is LEEM AN VADAH, the Irish for the leap of the dog.
In another time of trouble, an O’Cahan horseman fled from his enemies and jumped to safety from the top of O’Cahan’s Rock, which stands 80 feet above the water. It is said that in certain lights, the horse’s hoof print is still visible on the rock.
The O’Cahan’s lands and castle were granted to Sir Thomas Phillips (of Bushmills Distillery fame) who founded ‘Newtoun Limavady’ in 1613. The last O’Cahan chief died in the Tower of London in 1628. The site of his castle is still there, on a rocky shelf on the steep riverbank, protected on the land side by a deep ditch.
Video produced by Ambient Light Productions